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Language Log

Monday, Aug. 07, 2006 - 8:01 a.m.

Vindaloo the Hunter.

We got some flies in the house yesterday; I watched Vindaloo catch and polish off four of them in a row. They were bumping around a window, and she'd just catch them with her paw and hold them in place against the window until she could get them into her mouth. Kinda gross but, hey, that's four less flies. It was really very impressive. She had less luck with the one that was just zooming around the room, unfortunately. But, it's a fly, there are windows...its days are numbered. (Well, they're numbered anyway, 'cause it's a fly, but you know what I'm sayin here).

Was reading a Language Log entry (link to your left; go take a look) about this probably completely made up claim about women vs. men's daily word output. Okay, it's silly, and it's just the sort of gender stereotyping that I have always hated. My question is, why does it appeal to so many people? Even when the claims fly in the face of experience, why do people like to believe that their behavior is 'hard-wired' along gender lines? I just find that repellent, viscerally repellent. I mean, if it really seems explanatory to you if behavior X is soemhow 'hard-wired', why not just say, this individual is naturally quiet/talkative, along with having brown eyes and being short. You can still tell a genetic story about that, if that's what you want to do (and I really mean a story-- I'm talking about popular myths, not scientific truths here). Still absolve yourself and others from having to try to modify your behavior in any way by explaining it away in terms of innate predisposition. Why is it so appealing that gender differences be explained in essentialist terms?

Although I often make fun of discourse analysis, every now and again I have the urge to do it, to understand how people are using a certain concept in their everyday lives. What do people do with this myth of physically determined gender differences? Well, gender, discourse analysis...there's probably a dissertation or few (hundred) laying around on just this topic, if I were actually interested.

My guess is that it keeps people from killing each other-- I mean, to accept some fundamental personality differences as largely unchangeable. This can be good, I guess, if you're in a relationship where one person is very talkative and the other is very quiet and it happens to fall along the predicted gender lines. It could lead to some acceptance, rather than trying futilely to get one another to change. I guess. But I tell you, if you're a quiet woman with a garrulous man and you (or he, at least) still hold these gender-based beliefs-- well, I bet it's a lot less useful in mediating the relationship, is all. And perhaps VERY ANNOYING (imagine being accused of talking all the time because you're a woman, when you haven't been actually able to utter more than 5 words uninterrupted in over a week). And I bet it also can keep people from trying to find a mate who is actually well-suited for them-- if you grow up thinking that all women are X and all men are Z, maybe you don't try as hard to find someone who is quiet or chatty like you. Or who will actually work on communicating. Etc.

Well, I'm just making this all up. But it is not inconsistent with my experience, especially with people who really treat the gender stereotypes stuff as true and given.

It's all 'just a construct', as the anthropologists would say.

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